Sunday, September 1, 2019

Key-Sook Geum at Callan Contemporary

To approach Key-Sook Geum's ethereal dress sculptures involves confronting mysteries within familiar forms. Nothing is more commonplace than clothing, yet Geum takes the very idea of clothing to not just another level, but other dimensions: despite their fussy, intricate elegance there is something almost spooky about these discarnate female forms. Beyond that, her wire and bead concoctions play other perceptual tricks, first by seductively drawing us in with their delicate, diaphanous beauty, and then by taking us on an exploration of the implicit inner life of the garments we take for granted. This aura of mystery may seem surprising since the materials used in these elaborately wrought bead and wire mesh forms are obvious for all to see, but their uncanny aura – the elusive yet near-human presence that imbues each work with its own personality – is harder to explain. Part of it has to do with their presentation: whether suspended and hovering over the floor or placed close to the walls, the interplay of light and shadow seen in "Wind and Whisper I, below left, subtly animated by ambient breezes, creates an eerie effect of shimmering dark and light patterns that add yet another layer to these unexpectedly complex works.

All of these qualities are seen in “Reminiscence in Ice,” top. Like a party dress for a fairy princess, “Reminiscence” is instantly familiar for its human scale and the classical female form of its implicit, yet unseen, wearer – but on close inspection it takes the eye on a magical mystery tour of its  meticulous wire and bead networks that might suggest the structure of skin cells, or perhaps human neural networks, or even fiber optics. Universal forms are just that, but within this is a unique invisible human presence that seems to breathe, or sigh. The rarefied aura of “Reminiscence” contrasts with the much simpler forms of traditional East Asian garments like “Greeting in Gold,” above. Here the aura of this very traditional bead and wire tunic appears as a charismatic glow emanating from a form reflecting the reverence for simplicity that underlies much East Asian culture, as well as its age-old assertion that all material forms are ultimately illusions, as permeable and immaterial as the air we breathe. ~Bookhardt / Wind and Whisper: Recent Sculpture by Key-Sook Geum, Through Sept. 22, Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., 525-0518.